Map in hand, itinerary plotted, objectives defined, I advanced like a Navy Seal on a mission. I had trained for the September trip to Prague, walking many miles during the summer until my body ached. No longer middle-aged, I was proud I moved with the gate of a much younger woman.
The city sparkled in pastel colors, a mosaic of a million architectural details. Through an arch of a tall stone tower, I passed onto The Charles Bridge. I didn’t slow down to look at the statues that stood like giants on either side of the carless expanse. I was determined to squeeze as much as I could out of my ten-day stay.
Crossing to the other side of the river, a church steeple marked my destination like a brightly colored pin on a wall map. The streets turned and twisted and I soon realized the journey was not a matter of direction but of ascension. My lungs filled with the air of a lovely blue sky and my heart quicken as I climbed. A wall encircled the most ancient part of the city and guarded not only the church but a small castle. Touring the surrounding gardens, I discovered an entrance into the fortress up steep, stone steps.
The church’s exterior was magnificent with its stained glass windows and lofty medieval construction but I was agitated. I had seen too many European churches and wondered if I really wanted to spend the day in the darkness of a long dead era. I needed to move. The feeling pushed me across the castle compound.
Escaping through an exit in the wall, I found a little street that once again climbed toward the sky. Although I was moving away from where I had started and had no idea where I was going, I chose the new path, confident that if things didn’t work out gravity would guide me down the hill once more.
Soon the incline lost it steepness, the stores thinned out, more trees appeared, and houses sat in gardens. The peaceful neighborhood slowed the my breathing into silent, gentle wisps. The air was just lukewarm enough not to be felt and I took in the perfect autumn day.
At a street corner, I saw a sign with a picture of a church, the words “Prague Loreto”, and an arrow pointing to the right. Anxiety returned. I skipped the most famous church in Prague. Should I go to this one to get in at least one church today? I released a breath and proceeded to right.
Twelve supersized angels, fat and covered with centuries of black patina greeted me. They were evenly spaced on a wall in front of the church, each a unique individual. The church itself looked like a palace, long and white with gold-colored trim, an orange roof, and a tall domed turquois spire that narrowed into a point as it reached for the heavens. Stepping through heavy wooden doors, I was surprised to see an open courtyard surrounded by a covered walkway. I paid the entrance fee and on impulse bought a copy of the visitors’ guide. The booklet explained that Loreto was a pilgrimage site and the arcade around the perimeter once sheltered long lines of believers.
Impatient again, I rushed over tile floor of the arcade, barely looking at portraits of the saints on the walls. I glanced at a picture of a suffering man riddled with arrows. My mind for some reason thought of “Jeopardy”. Famous Saints for 200. Who is Saint Sebastian?
My steps were halted by another set of tall doors. Pulling on one of them, I stepped into a church and was overwhelmed with the same delight experienced during a fireworks display. Pinks, lavenders, mint greens, and pale blues accented with silver and gold leaf gave the large room the feeling of a fairyland. Everything was exaggerated with frescos, lacey metal work, and arches and columns made of marble. What astounded me the most were the life-sized cherubs with their chubby flesh-colored bodies and their gold diapers. Hundreds of these sculptures romped through the church. A group played instruments around the pipe organ and others had perched themselves in a happy cluster above the altar.
I sat in a pew and opened the guide book. “The lavish ornamentation of this church is called Rococo and represents an 18th century stylistic movement against the symmetry and restrictiveness of Baroque Art.” With new eyes, I looked at the nearest cherub and was surprised to see a pair of pliers in his fat little hand and a large tooth in the other. The angel sported a devilish grin as he stood over another angel who appeared to be in great pain.
I chuckled to myself and wished I could go back in time and talk to the man who was bold enough to produce flawed angels for an infallible church. We would have laughed. I imagined shaking his hand at the end of our visit and I could almost hear him say, “Don’t let the world steal your joy”.
I looked at my watch. Better get going, it’s almost lunchtime. Leaving The Loreto, I took a list of restaurants out of my bag and tried to decipher a good choice from the mysterious names. I almost walked into young man who was taking a picture of a door. He scurried ahead as me as I stopped to look at my map. Up ahead the young photographer found something interesting in a small space between two buildings. He braced his camera and himself against the brick wall.
Another artist looking for the unconventional. I approached the man and waited for him to release his camera from the shot. “Are you taking pictures for a book?”
The photographer smiled, flattered someone recognized his efforts. “No, I am just taking vacation pictures.”
“You’re not taking the typical tourist shots, I admire that.”
The man cradled the camera in his hands, as he shared his thoughts, “It’s all about combining the same old things in a different ways. Life like music has only seven notes.”
“No,” I replied with a little too much anguish, “I am twice your age and I am still looking for the eighth, and the ninth, and the tenth note. and the notes in between. And sounds not even created yet!”
The young man didn’t know what to say, I tried to save the moment, “I bet your pictures are beautiful.” And suddenly I remembered something. Looking into the photographer’s eyes, I added, “Don’t let the world steal your joy.”
I walked away. I took the my map, my to-do-list, and the restaurant guide out of my bag and dropped them into a nearby trash can. And then I turned down a street I had never traveled before and smiled.
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